Officials at Fusion Genomics say the company has set up a fully automated, first-of-its-kind infectious-disease surveillance facility at Toronto Pearson International Airport. The facility, which uses Fusion’s DNA sequencing-based ONETest platform, will allow detection of SARS-CoV-2 and other respiratory pathogens in wastewater effluent from airplanes and terminal facilities at Canada’s busiest airport.

The pilot project, supported in part by funding from the National Research Council of Canada Industrial Research Assistance Program, is being facilitated by the Greater Toronto Airports Authority (GTAA).

Wastewater testing has been used to a small degree for infectious disease surveillance for years, but it was the COVID-19 pandemic that highlighted its potential. Scientists and public health officials used wastewater surveillance data to spot outbreaks in communities weeks before more traditional methods, such as COVID-19 test positivity levels, began to indicate a problem. The approach has also been effective for monitoring transmission trends in more targeted settings, such as office buildings or college campuses, according to Mohammad Qadir, PhD, president and CSO of Fusion Genomics.

“Wastewater surveillance offers a unique opportunity to understand potential pandemic threats and generate actionable public health information without having to inconvenience travelers by requesting swab samples,” continued Qadir. “This unique facility will, for the first time, provide the aviation industry with the tools to potentially support public health and safety by connecting airport wastewater surveillance with global surveillance data.”

Full spectrum of respiratory viruses

In the pilot program, the company will use its sequencing-based ONETest Coronaviruses Plus test to look for the full spectrum of all known and novel respiratory viruses, including emerging and novel SARS-COV-2 variants of concern in samples of wastewater collected from terminal facilities and the combined aircraft wastewater repository in its on-site laboratory at Toronto Pearson.

Since the start of the COVID-19 pandemic, Fusion Genomics has been evaluating the ONETest platform as a tool to detect not only SARS-CoV-2, but all known and emerging upper-respiratory viruses, noted Qadir. In a separate pilot study announced last year, the company deployed its test at Toronto Pearson to evaluate samples collected from passengers.

The company has also previously received contracts from Innovative Solutions Canada to provide the ONETest to the Canadian Food Inspection Agency for detecting coronaviruses, other upper respiratory RNA viruses, and various strains of zoonotic viruses.

“Toronto Pearson is an international gateway where tens of millions of passengers from around the world cross paths every year,” said Dwayne MacIntosh, director of safety and security at the GTAA. “We are committed to the health and safety of our passengers and airport staff, and we believe it is important to explore pilot studies, such as this one with Fusion Genomics, to understand how innovative and targeted studies with industry can support public health officials in making smarter, more timely decisions to protect our community from new disease threats.”